When reports surfaced suggesting the serpentine pedestrian bridge over downtown’s Northside Drive likely cost north of $33 million—during a summer when the topic of city infrastructure geared toward safety is top-of-mind—some observers were naturally furious.
Quick review: The project was supposed to cost some $10 million less than that, and city officials opted to dip into Renew Atlanta coffers ($19 million in bond premiums) to ensure the structure would be ready in time for Super Bowl LIII.
Then, when it came time for the big game, the bridge, marketed as a link between Vine City and Mercedes-Benz Stadium and downtown, wasn’t even open to public foot traffic.
Now, a new analysis by Atlanta-based architecture firm Kronberg Wall spotlights just how much of a money suck some designers and urbanists think the expensive, glow-in-the-dark bridge was.
“Coinciding with budget shortfalls in the Renew Atlanta bond program, this prioritization [of the bridge project] illustrates the disparity between public funding for flashy projects and basic city infrastructure like sidewalks and multimodal streets,” reads the Kronberg Wall blog post.
The writing, which points to the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge as “a glaring reminder that Atlanta is often not built to foster equity,” compares the serpentine walkway with Midtown’s popular 5th Street bridge, built in 2004.
The 5th Street bridge repurposed an otherwise “mediocre swath of concrete spanning the city’s vast Connector” into a complete streets success, replete with green space, seating, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks.
And it cost just $10.12 million—$13.7 million, if adjusting for inflation.
“That’s right,” reads the Kronberg Wall post, “the money spent on the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge would have paid for nearly two and a half 5th Street bridges.”
As for the equity question, the firm nodded to a book by Canadian author and urbanist Charles Montgomery, “Happy City,” in which he notes how lower-income and predominantly minority communities—i.e. Vine City—are traditionally underserved of things like green space, recreation centers, or decent sidewalks.
Though it may be shinier, the Northside Drive pedestrian bridge is hardly the public asset that the 5th Street bridge has become.
“One offers space where diverse users feel dignified and valued as citizens of their city; the other does not,” the post says.
Especially this summer, Atlanta has been criticized for prioritizing and subsidizing projects that make life more comfortable for motorists, sometimes at the expense of non-drivers.
Per Kronberg Wall: “In a city where resources are limited and needs are great, we should be asking of every project this fundamental question: ‘Who do we want Atlanta to be for?’”